Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, with changing weather and increased flooding and landslides. TEAR’s Paul Hansen reports on how our partners are working in a variety of ways to support people affected by changes to their environment.
As a trained water and sanitation engineer, I’ve often been accused of having an unhealthy interest in toilets. So it would surprise none of my friends that when one of the members of the Self-Help Group I met on a recent trip to Nepal, a woman named Premi Devi Chaudhary, tells me she has built a biogas1 toilet, I couldn’t help but go and have a closer look. After inspecting both the toilet and the very large pig that contributed its manure to ensure a ready supply of biogas, I enjoyed a very nice cup of chai boiled up efficiently on Premi’s gas burner. Quicker and cleaner than firewood and, no, it doesn’t smell!
Drinking biogas chai got me thinking more about climate change in Nepal. What does climate change mean for people like Premi, whose farm is no bigger than the average Australian suburban block? One assessment has ranked Nepal as being fourth most vulnerable to climate change, which means less snow and retreating glaciers along with a less reliable monsoon – sometimes the rain comes in greater intensity, resulting in increased flooding and landslides, but at other times monsoon rains fail leading to failed crops. These changes typically hurt the poor the most as they often live in flood-prone areas or rely on small farms to feed their families, and so don’t have the capacity to get through dry years or survive floods.
A community tree planting project run by TEAR’s partner Share and Care.
The question for TEAR’s partners is what to do about this. The answer comes in understanding the causes of poverty for people like Premi. As a poor, uneducated woman, Premi felt powerless and lacked the knowledge, skills and belief in herself to change her situation. She told me that before being involved in the Self-Help Group she was confined to her home, and being illiterate couldn’t tell the difference between a 5 and 10 rupee note! So to her, if she ever thought about it, climate change was just another thing that might keep her in poverty, but she was powerless to do anything about it.
Understanding this, to a large extent TEAR’s partners’ response to climate change is to continue the work they are doing – work that allows people in poverty to know their worth in God’s eyes and to gain skills and knowledge to be able to improve their lives – including finding ways to adapt to the impact of climate change. In Premi’s case, this meant she was included in a women’s Self-Help Group set up by TEAR’s partner Welfare Association for Children, Tikapur (WACT). The confidence, skills and support she received enabled her to begin a small pig-breeding business, increasing her income. Knowledge she gained about sanitation, the environment and how to access Government subsidy programs resulted in her choosing to purchase a biogas plant that provided her family with multiple benefits such as a toilet, cleaner air and quicker cooking compared to firewood, and on top of this she is reducing greenhouse gas emissions!
Women from one of the WACT Self-Help Groups.
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What I see when I travel around Nepal are stories like Premi’s – a diverse range of creative answers to the effects of climate change and environmental degradation included within community development projects. These range from women’s groups taking action to protect forests (see story boxout), or groups undertaking tree planting to help stabilise slopes and reduce the risk of landslides, through to groups promoting smokeless stoves (good if you don’t have a buffalo or pigs providing manure to make a biogas plant viable), to partners who are helping set up local disaster preparedness committees. Disaster preparedness projects aim to ensure that when local disasters occur, like flooding, there are warning systems and places for people to go so that lives are saved. The approach of TEAR’s partners is to work in a range of ways to enable people in poverty to have a voice in their own communities and more choice in their lives to respond to the environmental challenges they face.
In Nepal, TEAR’s partner WACT has worked with women in poverty over the past six years and has established an extensive network of Self-Help Groups with over 4,000 women involved. A number of these Self-Help Groups have looked at how to ensure local resources, such as firewood and timber for building, continue to be available now and into the future.
As a result of their new knowledge, the Himalaya Self-Help Group decided to become more involved in management of the local community forest, including patrolling the forest. On one occasion they seized timber illegally cut from their forest by a timber mill. The mill owner paid 20,000 rupees for the offence, money that was used to help fund a new community vaccination clinic. Through the work of WACT, these women are getting a say in their local resources, improving their community as well as reducing one important contributor to climate change - deforestation.
Paul Hansen is TEAR’s International Program Officer for Nepal.
1. Biogas is a mixture of gases produced by the breakdown of organic matter that can provide a source of renewable energy. One of TEAR’s partners in Nepal, UMN, pioneered biogas plants and set up the first company to construct them in 1975. There are now over 300,000 such plants in Nepal.
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